Perhaps you may have seen a guy stomping down 42nd street recently, headbanging and singing in an awful Norwegian accent while leering menacingly at tourists? That would be me. Or maybe you've driven by my manse and seen me mowing the lawn with one fist in the air, dancing and howling operatically? You can thank Darkthrone for that.
Circle the Wagons is an album that purposefully evokes a metal era where simplicity and songwriting were king. Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have succeeded mightily in that endeavor, creating a pile of tunes that I find completely addictive. Circle the Wagons has been my fist pumping soundtrack to many-a mundane activity of late. These songs all but beckon you to sing along with their preposterous vocals and twisted lyrics.
Circle the Wagons is filled with elegant yet uncomplicated riffage that's rooted in a bygone era, but is ultimately timeless. The tracks feel like they rolled out of bed in 1983, threw on their denim jackets and delivered a case of beer directly to my ears. You'll find everything from traditional heavy metal chugging to punk inflected pre-thrashification to darker, proto-black metal. There's no real need to injure your brain trying to pick out the influences at work; Fenriz has annotated the album booklet with an explanation of just that. He name-drops bands like Motorhead, English Dogs, Agent Steel, Metallica, Deathside, Puke, Slayer, Omen and Savage Grace. 'Nuff said.
I've been evangelizing metal long enough to know what will happen if I try to sell this album as a nostalgia trip to my conservative and traditional heavy metal friends; they'll hate the vocals. Fenriz and Nocturno Culto split the writing and singing duties evenly, alternating tracks on the album. While recognizably different, both men predominantly ply gravelly proto-death vocals, with some rousing unclean singing and pseudo-operatic sauce mixed in. Nothing about the vocals is conventional, and I can easily see this as off-putting to the aforementioned crowd. Fuck them; it's their loss.
Lyrically, this thing is a hoot. Fenriz sings “I am the graves of the 80s, I am the risen dead. Destroy their modern metal and bang your fucking head!” Do I really need to say anything else? The songwriting and composition on Circle the Wagons is what puts it head and shoulders above Darkthrone's formidable recent output, at least in my eyes. The title track is just goddamned infectious. “I Am The Working Class” is completely anthemic, with memorable riffs and lyrics that never cease to make me smile. Track for track, this might also be the most consistent album Darkthrone have put out lately.
I don't think I need to tell you that the drumming is fantastic and the production is perfectly laissez-faire. Circle the Wagons certainly doesn't stack up to the classics of the eighties, but I don't think that's the point. It does, however, share the ethos. When I spin this album I usually follow it up with some Piece of Mind, Mob Rules, Melissa or even some Stained Class. It makes me want to rock out with those old albums as much as it makes me want to reach for a beer. That's simply metal.
Circle the Wagons mini-site
P.S. An apocalyptic project at work has temporarily hijacked all of my free time, and you may have noticed a drop-off in reviews. Rest assured that I'm still buying CDs at a frightening pace and will soon be catching up on the backlog of metal that's worth your money.
Disclaimer: Peaceville provided me with a promotional download, but I went out and bought the album anyway.